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White House Prolongs America’s COVID-19 National Emergency as States Drop Mandates

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Published: February 21, 2022
Biden puts on his face mask before receiving a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
Biden puts on his face mask before receiving a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. (Image: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images)

On Sunday, Feb. 21, President Biden declared an extension of the nearly two-year national emergency to March 1, citing COVID-19 as a “risk to the public health and safety” to the citizens of the U.S. 

The national emergency was enacted during the Trump administration at the beginning of the pandemic. Biden’s extension comes despite the Omicron variant being on the decline, and as blue states join red states in dropping mandates and lockdowns. 

Emergency powers extended

In a published letter to Congress, Biden claimed that the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to affect U.S. citizens, pushed further by the Omicron variant, Reuters reported.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant risk to the public health and safety of the nation,” Biden said. He also emphasized the importance of the fight against COVID-19 with the “full capacity and capability of the federal government.”

“For this reason, the national emergency declared on March 13, 2020, and beginning March 1, 2020, must continue in effect beyond March 1, 2022,” Biden wrote in another statement.

By Friday, the number of Americans hospitalized due to the pandemic rose to more than 75,000. The death toll of people who died with COVID-19 had reached more than 900,000. It’s unknown how many Americans have died specifically due to COVID-19 as the death toll includes those with pre-existing conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Johns Hopkins University, there had been 60,000 more deaths from the pandemic during the Biden administration than that from the Trump administration.

Despite these statistics, many local leaders believe lockdowns and restrictions cause more harm than good at this point. They have been actively trying to return their states back to normal and have eased restrictions.

On Feb. 14, Washington D.C. announced that it will ease its requirements for proof of vaccination for entry into many businesses starting Feb. 15. 

The same day, Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland also announced that entry into state buildings will also cease mask requirements starting on Feb. 22.

The governors of New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Delaware, and Oregon also announced plans to stop mask mandates.

Several federal health officials, including COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci, hinted that they were ready for the next phase of the pandemic since Omicron cases have dropped recently. Fauci told MSNBC last week that the easing of mandates is not motivated by “political sentiment.” 

However, critics have voiced their doubts, stating that Democrat leaders have only stopped restrictions because they want to retain their House or Senate seats in the upcoming midterms. In contrast, Republican leaders like Gov. DeSantis, not only has dropped mask mandates in Florida, but will pull state funding from schools that force children to wear masks. 

From Trump to Biden

The national emergency was put into effect by former President Donald Trump on Mar. 13, 2020. Its enactment gave access to $50 billion to be used for resources to quell the spreading of COVID-19. At the time, over 1,000 Americans had died with COVID-19. Due to the lack of clear data from the CDC, it’s unknown how many deaths had been caused by the virus at the time.

The “special powers” of the federal government allow more freedom from legal constraints, spending, and other actions.

Through the national emergency, state governments were advised to do the following: prepare emergency operations centers; the nation’s hospitals were guided to ready “contingency plans”; and secretary Alex Azar would supervise regulations that may slow down responses from health professionals.

The emergency would have expired, but Biden believed the emergency status was still needed. 

Biden went before Congress for the extension, an act that is allowed 90 days before the anniversary of the emergency declaration.